Hands down, some of the biggest challenges we face stem from working with clients. Clients come in a range of flavors. At best, you'll partner with smart-as-hell ones who will push you in the right way. Ones who are actually fun to be around, and appreciate what you do for their business. On the other end are the bad eggs, the downright disrespectful. And in the middle—a whole lot of variation, both positive and painful.
No matter what kind of client you're dealt, frustrations will arise from the nature of agency-client dynamics and people figuring out how to work with people. So here are a handful of approaches that will help make working with clients easier, more productive, and ultimately, lead to better work. Which, at the end of the day, is what everyone wants.
First, separate yourself from the work. After pouring time and effort—and sometimes late nights and weekends—into something, it's natural to weave you, yourself as a person, into this thing that you've created. But the ego is what makes us immediately defensive to questioning/criticism of the work, and causes us to feel shitty and shut down in meetings. The more you can remove it from the work itself, the less you'll feel like any pushback on the work is a blow to you personally. And the faster you'll get to working with the client to make the work better.
Whether dismissive, sarcastic, or straight up yelling, a client's tone can weigh on you. Try to understand their tone—where does it stem from? There will be those who just express themselves in a particular way. But maybe they're short-staffed and stretched thin. Most likely the work you spend a huge chunk of your time on is only a fraction of what they have to worry about. Maybe they were burned by a former agency. Identifying the cause of a client's tone can help put the way they communicate into perspective, and keep it from being straight up unpleasant.
Always ask why. Don't let clients get away with just saying they don't like something (see The Wet Blanket above). Even if they insist it's a gut feeling, dig for the root reason. They're entitled to their opinion, but with that comes the responsibility of giving you clear direction on how to make the work stronger. By the same token, give clients reasons why. Asking them to just trust you isn't enough. Provide rationale that allows clients to make informed decisions they feel good about.
Sometimes, when a client partnership becomes irreparably bad, an agency will make the hard decision to walk away. While rough on the business—the loss of revenue, potential damaging of relationships—the right agency will know that the wellbeing of their team matters more. While agencies serve clients, find agencies who will also advocate for you. (For more ways to feel out an agency, check out 5 Measures of Agency Culture.)
Clients are a huge part of our experience. But clients aren't just clients. They're people, partners, and sometimes even friends. The more we can think "us + them," and less, "us vs. them," the easier and better the experience will be for everyone.